Bip-Boop: How TiVo Helped Me Ditch TV

Seven years ago, I was addicted to “Farscape.” And when I say “addicted,” I mean mouth-foaming crazy. Sci-Fi network (back before they decided to become the most ridiculously-named network ever) was re-running the entire series the summer before the third season dropped. I happened across it one day and it tripped some sort of mental breaker – apparently space operas with sentient ships and muppets are my catnip; who knew?

Being a child of the 90s, I did my due diligence every Sunday and extracted the TV Guide from the paper, figured out what episodes I hadn’t seen, and set the VCR to record them at the appointed date and time (No flashing “12:00” for me, nosireeBob. I was technologically advanced.). Great system, as long as the 20-year-old, overtaxed wiring system in our house didn’t brown out frequently and eat my programming for the week (hint, it did). I still remember nerd-raging over a steak at Outback because I’d been forced (FORCED) to go out to dinner as soon as I got home, even though my wife could clearly see that the VCR was flashing (again) and the episode I needed would air while we were having dinner! WHY COULDN’T SHE UNDERSTAND WHAT WAS AT STAKE?! (Editor’s note: She did; but was a responsible, hungry adult who didn’t care for my nerdy temper tantrum.)

It was soon after that I looked into this nascent company creating digital video recorders: TiVo.

TiVo pioneered for-the-masses digital video recorders. Now, you get half a dozen DVRs when you sign up for cable; but seven years ago, the concept was a bit wonky. At its core, it was a VCR…but without tapes. At least, that’s how I billed it to the in-laws when they tried to figure out what exactly I was doing as I routed a medusa-head of wires between the TV, my new TiVo, and the VCR (used to be you could save shows off to your VCR…probably still can; but I don’t know of anyone who ever actually used that function). And if that’s all it was, I know it would have quickly made its way to the Attic Box of Abandoned Technology.

TiVo’s real magic was (and is) in the software. I was no longer reliant on pre-printed (and often inaccurate) TV Guides, TiVo got the latest programming information right from the networks. And Farscape? I punched in the name of the show, told it I wanted to see as many shows as the hard drive would hold, and that was it. I would come back a day later and it had bounded off like a good dog, rounded up the shows I wanted (wherever they fell on the schedule), and dropped them in my queue.

The difference really came when we were watching something live and got The Phone Call. You know the one, the call that comes right at the apex of your favorite show and inevitably takes up the entire back half, leaving you in a social quagmire where you feel obligated to talk to the caller, but seething over the missed show that you’d been looking forward to. No longer did I have to do the “30-minutes-of Buffy-in-30-seconds-so-that-ending-makes-sense” dance for my wife; I’d just unpause and we’d continue on.

And there were other benefits. Commercials? Gone. Just a quick “bip-boop” and they were sucking dust in your rearview. See a new show that looks interesting, but comes on at a ridiculously stupid time? Just schedule a couple eps and check it out; grab the rest if you like it and watch it whenever (which is how I discovered Cowboy Bebop, actually). I ended up watching far more TV once we got the TiVo because there was more stuff “on” that I wanted to see.

Seven years later, we’re up to three TiVos with triple the hard drive space each, hooked up to our wireless network, and streaming shows back and forth to each other and our computers. My daughter has never known regular commercial TV and is dumbfounded when we go on vacation and we can’t just turn on her favorite show. My son is shocked when NFL games take more than an hour to watch. The ironic thing, though, is that I probably watch less TV now than I ever have.

Y’see, I’m spoiled as well. I’m used to a world where my shows are always available. I can miss weeks of a show in real time; but can still catch up whenever I want. The turning point for me came when the second season of LOST dropped and the network got wise to my time-shifting ways.

I found myself combing through my queue for the latest episode only to find there was nothing there. The show was in a long rerun drought or “on hiatus” while other shows got tried out in its prime spot. I found myself in a position I hadn’t been in for years. I had to go find schedules and figure out where it had gone and when it was coming back. I was having to dig through all kinds of corporate-placed sponsorship just so I could get to the information I needed. And when a new show finally did show up I was so starved for a new ep that I watched it in *gasp* real-time. After a few months, I realized I was back in the same position I’d been in before TiVo where it was the network dictating my evening schedule, not me. So, rather than watch everything I could on ABC to find yet another teaser ad reminding me that LOST would be back on, eventually, I deleted the Season Pass off my TiVo.

After that first, I found myself getting rid of more and more shows as I weighed their entertainment value vs. how much they tried to play peek-a-boo with my TiVo’s scheduling. Now, my evenings are much less about TV. I play video games with my brother online, crack a book or two, and, yeah, watch the occasional shared show with my wife; but currently I don’t have a single “must see” geek show to call my own. And I like it.

In the end, it wasn’t that I really wanted more TV, I just needed help breaking the cycle.

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